Meet the CTOs in cable: Comcast’s Tony Werner

Comcast’s Tony Werner

This story is part of a broader Meet the CTOs feature that introduces all of the major network operator CTOs across the wireless, telecom and cable industries. To read about top network CTOs from other companies, click here.

Who he is: Although Sree Kotay occupies the title of CTO, Tony Werner is Comcast’s top engineering/technology executive, with the title of president of technology and product for Comcast Cable, overseeing all five of the distinct teams residing within Comcast’s Technology and Product division. The former Liberty Global CTO, who joined Comcast in 2006, leads all software development, systems engineering, access network creation, tech ops, cloud computing and R&D within Comcast. Werner is perhaps cable’s highest profile CTO, serving as Chairman of the Board of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Foundation.

Where he is: Werner reports directly to Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit, with the five Technology and Product team heads reporting to Werner. These include Sree Kotay, who has the “Technology” team as executive VP and CTO; Chris Satchell, who heads the “Product” team as executive VP and chief product officer; senior VP and GM Jan Hofmeyr, who heads “network and platform operations;” senior VP John Heslip, who leads the access network and technical operations unit; and senior VP and GM Matt McConnell, who leads the “Technology Solutions” unit that was recently consolidated around Comcast Wholesale. Werner’s Technology and Product team employs thousands of technologists spread across Philadelphia, Denver, Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley.

What he’s doing: Werner’s recent projects of note have been development of a DOCSIS 3.1-powered gigabit modem, the Xfinity Voice Remote, and the broad-reaching viewer experience found on the MSO’s X1 platform during the Rio Summer Olympics. Werner’s team also wants to sustain video subscriber growth through evolution of the X1 platform, compete for 1-gig services with the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1, and plunge into an entirely new business – wireless – based largely on the company’s vast deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots and its MVNO deal with Verizon.

In video, Comcast continues to evolve the X1 software stack, aggressively adding new features. It’s also about to release a wave of next-generation video CPE, including the upcoming HDR-capable Xi5 set-top. Concurrently, it has been the most aggressive cable company in terms of rolling out DOCSIS 3.1-powered services. The company has already deployed DOCSIS 3.1-powered 1-gig services in Nashville, Chicago and Detroit, where it’s competing directly with fiber. Comcast has plans to deploy DOCSIS 3.1 in Miami, Fla. later this year, and in the Bay Area in 2017. Comcast will also enable DOCSIS 3.1 upstream services next year.

Then there are the company’s wireless ambitions. Not only is Comcast set to launch a Wi-Fi-enhanced service based on its 2011 wholesale MVNO agreement with Verizon, it’s also experimenting with low-power WAN technologies to exploit the IoT sector. The company also may add to its wireless ambitions with 600 MHz spectrum purchased in the FCC’s ongoing auction – Comcast already put down a $1.8 billion deposit in the event.

Werner is also heavily involved in Comcast’s entry into network function virtualization and software defined networking, a project that promises to replace expensive, proprietary network elements with software running on inexpensive, commodity hardware. "It's a radical change," he said of virtualization, speaking at an SCTE trade event. "You're taking what is today racks of proprietary gear, and you're now going to basically run Linux servers in some form of cloud infrastructure. And what used to be proprietary silicon is now going to be in software. You get the benefit of speed of change. I don't have to go out and touch and rack new gear if I want to put some new feature in."